Published: Aug. 29, 2012

The first time Taylor Stratton saw CU-Boulder’s mascot Ralphie run onto the field at a home football game, she knew she wanted to join the team of Ralphie Handlers.

Ranked one of the top college mascots in the country, Ralphie is a real buffalo – female American bison to be precise -- that leads the football team onto Folsom Field. Ralphie Handlers are varsity student-athletes who run with Ralphie around the field before the games.

“It’s the coolest thing in college sports to watch Ralphie run and I just knew I had to do it,” said Stratton, a senior from Colorado Springs who is triple majoring in environmental studies, geography, and ecology and evolutionary biology.

It takes five handlers to run with Ralphie around the field. Two on each side guide her and one bringing up the rear helps control her speed. Other handlers are positioned around the field to make sure Ralphie has a clear, safe path to run.

Keeping up with a grown buffalo running 20 mph requires Stratton and her teammates to be fit and fast on their feet. During the football season they work out five days a week—two days lifting weights and three days practicing their runs with Ralphie. While feisty on the field, Ralphie has a sweet disposition, according to Stratton, and shows her affection toward the handlers by licking their gloves.

“It can be challenging keeping up with her,” said Stratton. “The louder people cheer the faster she’ll run. It’s such an adrenaline rush. Ralphie is so much fun to be around and she has a great personality.”

This is Stratton’s second year as a handler. She also is a student ambassador and gives campus tours to prospective students and their families. For the past year she has been participating in an American pika research project studying the potato-sized, hamster-like mammals that live in the Rocky Mountains.

During the spring 2013 semester, Stratton will study wildlife conservation and political ecology in Tanzania, Africa, where she will stay with a local family and learn to speak Swahili while earning college credit.

“I want to try as many opportunities as I can while I’m at CU,” said Stratton.